Chosen by Rachel
A novel within a novel within a novel. Set in a fictional Canadian town it recalls the life events of an ageing lady. It won the Booker Prize in 2000.
⚈ “The Blind Assassin opens with the following sentence: ‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove her car off a bridge’, making it clear there are mysteries to be solved.
“The make up of the book is puzzle like, with four interweaving narratives. The main story is of the Chase family from World War I through the end of the 1990s. Laura Chase, the sister who drives her car off the bridge, has a published novel which is dictated, also entitled The Blind Assassin. In it, two unnamed lovers pursue an affair. The man – some kind of political subversive – is on the run, while the woman has reason to want the relationship to remain secret. During their meetings are fragments of a third narrative, a science fiction fable that the man tells the woman. Interspersed among these three narratives are fragments of a fourth narrative: newspaper and magazine stories of Toronto society in the 1930s and 1940s.
When you’re young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You’re your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too—leave them behind. You don’t yet know about the habit they have, of coming back.
⚈ “The Blind Assassin is about storytelling. Storytelling within storytelling within storytelling. Clearly a book for those who love books! I could say it is about an ageing woman recalling her life in the 30s and 40s and the death of her sister, who drives her car off a bridge in the opening sentence. But this is merely just the beginning and it is becomes so much more than that. Layer after layer of intrigue is uncovered in this rich and uniquely rewarding reading experience. There are many tiers to this book, and I became instantly engrossed in all the stories being told, in the characters and their lives. It takes a little to get into rhythm with the various settings, timeframes and beats of the stories, but once you’re there, you’re living the book, and all its stories and it’s hard to put it down. Margaret Atwood is a master and I’m always apprehensive to start another of her novels knowing it will only have to end.” – Rachel
⚈ “Despite my initial confusion with The Blind Assassin it was definitely worth persevering with! A stunning novel, one of my all-time favourites. In conversations about books, I’m always surprised about the number of people who know of it but who haven’t read it. Resulting in me shoving my copy in their hands and saying aggressively “SERIOUSLY YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK”. Margaret Atwood is one of my heroes.” – Suzy
McClelland & Stewart
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Chosen by Nadine
A 1960 novel which won the Pulitzer Prize and has been named one of the best novels of all time. The young narrator’s warmth and humour are offset by the racial and societal injustices she observes.
⚈ “To Kill a Mockingbird replays three key years in the life of Scout Finch, the young daughter of an Alabama town’s principled lawyer. Scout relates how she and her elder brother Jem learn about fighting prejudice and upholding human dignity through the example of their father, Atticus Finch, who has taken on the legal defence of a black man falsely charged with raping a white woman.
“Lee’s story of the events surrounding the trial portray Southern life during the 1930s, examining the causes and effects of racism, and creating a model of tolerance and courage in the character of Atticus Finch. A regional novel dealing with universal themes of tolerance, courage, compassion, and justice, To Kill a Mockingbird combined popular appeal with literary excellence to ensure itself an enduring place in modern American literature.”
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
⚈ “I loved this book. I think as with a lot of the classics as soon as you start reading them you realise why they are a classic. And also you ask yourself why you haven’t read it until now!” – Nadine
⚈ “A great read – can you say anything but? I also really enjoyed the research on Harper Lee & her mystique. Also interesting was the controversy around whether the story was in fact written by Truman Capote.” – Suzy
⚈ “This book should be read by everyone without exception. There is much to relate to and learn from, especially the message of morality and the search to be free – whatever it is you are searching to be free of. It focuses on the idea of right and wrong, and this is portrayed in every character, from the courtroom trial to the young children playing freely around the neighbourhood, to the mysterious Boo Radley. And it’s these themes that make the book accessible and affecting for every reader. This book teaches us to learn from history and to never forget. It is timeless and will have an important message for every generation to come.” – Rachel
Grand Central Publishing
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Chosen by Suzy
A New Zealand book which is an unusual love story, depicting a utopian unity between Maori and Western culture
⚈ “Kerewin Holmes is a reclusive painter who is trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Joe Gillayley is a widower who maintains a love-hate relationship with his adoptive son and is searching for human companionship. Simon Gillayley is a mute seven-year-old who is loveable but notorious for his sudden outbursts of violence and theft.
“When the three first come together, their lives are blissful; spending their nights drinking and enjoying their friendship. As time goes on, Joe’s violence towards Simon is revealed, prompting Kerewin to become more involved in the Gillayley family. Their lives are shattered one fateful evening when Joe’s aggressive nature takes over.
“The Bone People is a twisting saga of broken families and the path toward individual redemption.”
“A family can be the bane of one’s existence. A family can also be most of the meaning of one’s existence. I don’t know whether my family is bane or meaning, but they have surely gone away and left a large hole in my heart.”
⚈ “I felt uncomfortable for most of the time I was reading The Bone People. A lot of the content is grim – chick-lit it ain’t. A stunning read though. And winning the 1985 Booker Prize is way more significant and exciting than the 1987 Rugby World Cup, okay?!” – Suzy
⚈ “The Bone People really got under my skin. Although it was disturbing, I felt a strange connection to this book that just wouldn’t leave me.” – Nadine
⚈ “The beautiful NZ coastlines, Maori myth and legend and the startling storyline are captivating in The Bone People, and so well done it was as if I was standing on a desolate West Coast beach as I reading. A desperately moving story that captures not only what it means to be Maori but what it means to be Maori in changing times. Its use of faith and fables as a foundation for the modern story gave the story a solidity and strength which I imagine gave this very NZ tale its universal appeal. I also enjoyed hearing about the author and the story behind the story, which made the final result more of a masterpiece in my eyes.” – Rachel
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Chosen by Nadine
A fantasy adventure in which the protagonist, Pi, is shipwrecked and must endure life at sea with a Bengal Tiger.
⚈ ” Life of Pi explores questions around faith, friendship and fiction in the tale of a religious Indian boy nicknamed Pi who becomes stranded on a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Pi draws upon his life experiences with a zookeeper father to establish peace between himself and the tiger, which he sees as his only possibility for survival.
“The novel is a unique blend of religious exploration, a meditation on the nature of truth, and the shipwreck survival tale. It won both the 2002 Man Booker Prize and the 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction.
“Life of Pi was inspired in part by a story written by Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar. In Scliar’s Max and the Cats, a young Jewish man flees Nazi Germany on a ship bound for Brazil, but when the boat sinks, he finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a jaguar from the Berlin Zoo.”
“I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and to do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”
⚈ “I really enjoyed Life of Pi, especially the twist at the end. Although, I still have some unanswered questions like who was the Frenchman?!” – Nadine
⚈ “I have solidly resisted watching the movie, despite it’s fantastic reviews. Would much rather keep the story’s amazing imagery firmly slotted into my own imagination. I found this book uncomfortable reading at the best of times, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it. A classic.” – Suzy
⚈ “I love a seemingly simple story with a twist. But I adore a book that makes me turn back to page one immediately upon completion for a re-read! Martel writes as if combining fact and fiction, with a narrator who is likeable and believable. The zoo animals and Pi’s ringmaster type control of them lends the book a fable type atmosphere that kept me spellbound. A clever and interesting story.” – Rachel
Chosen by Suzy
A native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days
⚈ “Although The Catcher in the Rye caused considerable controversy when it was first published in 1951, the book—the account of three disoriented days in the life of a troubled sixteen-year-old boy—was an instant hit. Within two weeks after its release, it was listed number one on The New York Times best-seller list, and it stayed there for thirty weeks.
“It remained immensely popular for many years, especially among teenagers and young adults, largely because of its fresh, brash style and anti-establishment attitudes—typical attributes of many people emerging from the physical and psychological turmoil of adolescence.
“It also was the bane of many parents, who objected to the main character’s obscene language, erratic behaviour, and antisocial attitudes. Responding to the irate protests, numerous school and public libraries and bookstores removed the book from their shelves. Holden simply was not a good role model for the youth of the 1950s, in the view of many conservative adults. The clamour over the book undoubtedly contributed to its popularity among the young: It became the forbidden fruit in the garden of literature.”
I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.
⚈ “I have read this book every 2-3 years since I was a teenager and Holden Caulfield is still one of my all-time favourite anti-heroes. Many of the book’s characters & their traits are so recognisable. I heart you Holden, although it worries me that as I get closer to 40 years old I still find you so relatable xx.” – Suzy
⚈ “An advantage of reading a classic some decades after it’s been written is the ability to recognise the influence said work has had on many modern day novels. Felt like I had known this story all my life and absorbed it fully and willingly. I especially enjoyed the use of time and timelessness. Holden wanders through the hours without the normal human requirements for sleeping and eating, Rather the world is revolving around him (as every teenager of every generation feels it should!) and I felt pulled into his dreamy world. A must read.” – Rachel
⚈ “A classic for good reason, loved it!” – Nadine
Little Brown & Co
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Chosen by Rachel
A satirical novel that details the aftermath of a school yard shooting in America.
⚈ “Vernon Gregory Little is a 15-year-old who avoids being killed in a schoolyard shooting by being on the toilet. His best friend Jesus Navarro shoots 16 of his classmates before turning the gun on himself. In the wake of the tragedy, the townspeople seek both answers and vengeance. Because Vernon was the killer’s closest friend, he becomes the focus of their fury. Vernon finds himself on the run, being charged with deaths of people across the country.
“The book is an absurdly humorous look at the serious topic of America’s history of mass shootings. The book tackles many aspects of modern American society, including consumer culture, the death penalty, the media casting tragedy as entertainment, plus the craving for fame some people have.
“Don’t be lookin’ up at no sky for help. Look down here, at us twisted dreamers”. He takes hold of my shoulders, spins me around, and punches me towards the mirror on the wall. “You’re the God. Take responsibility. Exercise your power.”
⚈ “Startling satirical comments regarding a school yard mass murder was initially a difficult concept to grasp. War satire has been done to death (pun intended) but school shootings, at a time when they were leading the news, was another story. But once Vernon sucked me in, there was no going back and I had to hear his story, prepared to be entertained but also shocked. A powerful book that has stayed with me.” – Rachel
⚈ “I remember this was the very first novel our bookclub looked at. I still remember Nadine’s insights too, picking up so much that I had missed! A sad, angry, entertaining read. Interesting author information too for Dirty But Clean Pierre.” – Suzy
⚈ “I really liked this book. For me it sparked my love of reading again. Yay! I enjoyed the dark humour and found it very refreshing.” – Nadine
Faber & Faber
The first draft, or when an idea grows out of the speculative stage and into implementation. The first draft, or when execution is in a formative state and those involved seem to tip toe around each other, around the idea, feeling their way, excited and energised about what could be.
This was us in 2007 when bookclub became more than a thought; more than a dream! The concept was thrown out there, I mean our love of literature was apparent but it was our desire to form a serious bookclub that propelled us. Less women’s group, more English Lit lecture.
So we threw it out there into the universe and the universe answered. Here’s what we achieved: three founding members, Suzy, Rachel and Nadine who alternated between one another’s book choices (which were picked at random) and one another’s homes for nibbles, dessert and a glass of wine.
Crazily, we met every two to three weeks at the start (first drafts are meant to be revised!), so we happily got through many books in that first year. But it was never a struggle, never a chore. We were three mothers with young children in bed early and minds that needed stimulation. Bookclub was the answer.
Here, we outline our thoughts on each book. This blog was not built at this time but at a later date, so we are trusting our fading memories for posts this far back, but then good books stay with you forever, don’t they?
2007 Reading Schedule
Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre
The Catcher In The Rye – J D Salinger
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Bone People – Keri Hulme
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
The Accidental – Ali Smith
She’s Come Undone – Wally Lamb
Teh Red Tent – Anita Diamant
The People’s Act Of Love – James Meek
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka